SRI LANKA: The Government of Sri Lanka must take a more proactive stance to save the lives of three Sri Lankans on death row in Saudi Arabia

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) notes that the Government and of Sri Lanka and, more specifically, its foreign ministry is taking a very passive role in defending the rights and saving the lives of three Sri Lankans on . As public questioning increases within Sri Lanka about the role of the foreign ministry in this case as well as the cases of seven hundred other persons who are in Saudi Arabian jails facing various charges, the foreign ministry appears to be concerned more with its own image and reputation than it is with saving the lives of its citizens abroad. There is nothing to indicate that the Foreign Ministry has been engaged in any other diplomatic efforts regarding this case or that of others in Saudi Arabian jails, except to forward their appeals for mercy by the families concerned. 

In countries where large migrant worker populations exist, the embassies and consulates of the workers home countries provide special services of legal and humanitarian assistance to their citizens facing problems. It is the primary duty of a consulate in a country to provide such services to all its citizens. However, the initial reaction of some senior politicians and diplomats in this particular case reveals that there is embarrassment about the level of publicity that is being received and that it might damage business opportunities that Sri Lanka has in Saudi Arabia. Such attitude is no different to the one that has been prevalent within the country for some decades now; that the considerations of investments and business comes first, and for that purpose, the rights of workers has to be sacrificed. Such attitude also sets a very dangerous path for the lives of the three persons facing . 

A question that may arise regarding the other seven hundred persons currently languishing in Saudi Arabian jails is how many of them may be facing charges that if proved may carry death sentences? It is the right of the families, the people in the country and also that of the parliament to be informed when such matters take place. Regarding the case of these three persons, the issue came to the notice of the Sri Lankan Parliament only when a Member of Parliament, a Buddhist monk, raised it as a private members question. The Foreign Ministry should have kept the parliament, including the president, prime minister and the opposition leader informed about this matter at the very first instance that they learned that these persons had been charged. Even if the persons concerned refused assistance from the ministry, as claimed by the ministry spokesmen, then this should have been relayed to the families and the country’s leaders. This would have enabled concerned parties to take appropriate action so as to ensure that a more informed approach would have been taken in regards to this case. 

The facts thus far establish very clearly that these persons would not receive death sentences in Sri Lanka if the same charges were brought in a Sri Lankan court. This is a matter that the Government of Sri Lanka should bring to the notice of the Saudi Arabian government in pleading for clemency for their citizens. At present the foreign ministry’s approach is too preoccupied in trying to defend their own reputation than trying to engage in proactive diplomacy to save the lives of these three citizens who are facing imminent death. The minister of foreign affairs and the ministry itself must rise to the occasion and use all their influence directly and through other sources to prevent the deaths of these three persons. There is still hope if they show the diplomatic will to act. 

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-36-2005
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Death penalty, Migrant workers,